Prince Ikan is Heir Apparent Prince of the kingdom of Iluji where the sun does not shine. To make the spell of darkness go away, kings traditionally offer slave girls in a ‘grand sacrifice’ to the gods of the land.
By the bank of the river called King’s Flow, Ikan meets Sarie, a slave girl and could not resist her charm. Any romantic relationship between them is a taboo punished by hanging the slave girl but the Prince and the slave would hope the darkness will hide them and he swears to protect her with his life.
When a prophecy comes from the gods that Ikan will be the prince to bring sunlight to Iluji, he finds himself in a deathly dilemma. He must sacrifice Sarie to the gods or see the darkness continue forever and the dynasty’s collapse.
Once the prince was gone, every servant that served in his quarters went with him. Sarie was no longer there for Omta to follow with his eyes. However, there was his second favorite Otte, the seductively slender, raven skinned Maril. Having ample time and close range to watch her now than never before, he concluded she was not just his second favorite Otte but his second favorite maiden ever. She had a proud gait with an alluring sway of prominent hips that was very rare among Ottes and mostly practiced and forced amongst Urles. Again that night on the hill, she was the only Otte, or the only one he noticed, who had enough heart to wear a smile as she served in that torturous condition of work.
As the festival was wrapping up and the Ottes had delivered their last trip of firewood, Omta stood and dusted his buttocks. He took hold of the reins of his horse of royal strip and led it down the hill. At the foot of the Hiban hill, he would wait for the Ottes to begin to leave.
In the kingdom of Iluji, a taboo was only a taboo when it has a non-participating witness. And in this land blanketed with darkness, secret was the code of every deed and the darkness was the only constant observing angel. The gods forbidden romantic union between Urls and Otts happen every day in the isolated huts, in barns, in pens, and inside caves when the bats sleep.
After only scheming for so long, Omta had now made up his mind to join in. He now only had the regret of introducing his primary Otte of delight to the prince. How would he have known that the Heir Apparent Prince would take any interest in this forbidden pleasure? Sarie's presence in the palace on its own had stolen her out of his reach because any closeness with her would be an impossible secret to keep. However, in some paradoxical way, Ikan's interest in Sarie made lighter his burden of selection. Despite Sarie being his number one, he had had a problem with letting go of one while both were reachable. Yet it had to be one girl at a time or his chances of keeping it secret diminishes. He knew very much the consequences of being caught. He had contemplated it a thousand times in his head. He would be sent on exile and the Otte will be hung by the neck on a tree along the banks of the King's Flow. He was sure he could handle being banished to the hill countries but he could not afford to put the lives of those girls in such risk. Part of his lengthy scheming was a plot of how to escape into the hill countries with the Otte once it seemed as if their secret is to be exposed and he finds just enough time to escape with her.
Down at the plain, a palace guard on a horse came to him with a torch.
"Thanks but I will not be needing it," he said to the guard, "and you can retire to your bed. I shall be coming behind you soon."
The guard left, so glad to be released.
It took a long time, but when Maril eventually came down the hill, Omta had the feeling he was about to have things as smooth as he prayed for. As opposed to the crowd in which the other Ottes departed in, Maril when she descended the hill was in the company of only two others.
Omta from then on began to follow the girls. He kept a good distance of twenty yards behind them but could hear the sound of their laughter and chattering of their conversations. Often, he would identify the unique sound of her giggle and once in a while he would catch a good view of her figure from rear by the help of their lamps. Each of these times, he had the sound of Ikan's words play in his head.
"One day, one of these lowly and smelly Ottas with incoherent speech will marry her into a tiny hut with a leaky roof and constantly enjoy on a heap of hay what our gods have forbidden us from touching."
He forbade that. If an Otta was already touching her and he finds out, he would nearly strangle him. He had not had her yet, but he had sworn to keep her forever, either here in the plains or in the countries beyond the hills.
He tried to listen to their conversation but the thuds of his horse's hoof against the hard clay earth will not let him. He had been able to follow unnoticed until they reached an ideally desolate part of the road where the only light he could see around was those held by the girls. Every other ones he was noticing before had disappeared into huts.
"Hold," he called, "let the Ottes hold now."
"The girls at the echo of his voice were instantly frozen to the spot."
"Maril, put down your lamp and begin to approach me," the stillness of the night added steel to his voice and it was as if an appearing of the gods was speaking. "The rest of you should depart hastily."
The girls stood still as if those commands were for the sprouting mushrooms by the way side.
"I will not repeat myself without unkind consequences on you. Maril, do not be afraid."
Maril slowly placed her lamp on the ground. Her friends began to leave, but not as hastily as he had commanded them. He climbed down from his saddle but held on to the reins of his horse.
"Come closer, Maril," he said in a low tone, "it is me, Omta."
"Yes, Omta of the root of Uloma."
She knelt before him and bowed her head.
He waited for some seconds to pass then he said, "Get up now."
"What does my lord wants from a lowly Otte?" Her head was still bowed and her hands joined in front of her groin.
He clamped her tiny waist on both sides with his firm hands. His horse neighed and stumped a hind foot. He ignored it and began to use his thick thumbs to glide the silk fabric of her gown against the soft skin on her hip bone. The moist skin of her cheek gleaned from the light of the lamp from yonder. He relaxed the firmness of his hold and listened to her rapid breaths attentively as if it encodes a message of life. Her body felt warm to his palms and her skin smelled of wood smoke.
He could not see her face, but he could sense her fright.
"Has any man lain with you?" His voice was shedding its kingly pounds and was lightly assuaging.
She tried to let herself free of his grip by a slight wriggle of her torso. Whether it was in protest of his invasive question or of his grip, he wouldn't be sure but all she achieved was a closer pressing of her groin against his. Now her hands were hanging by her sides.
"Have you been known of a man?"
After a brief silence, "No." She shook her head.
"I want you, Maril," he bowed his head so that his forehead touched the top of her head, "I have set all my affection on you since I knew you. I want to know I can have you forever. I want you to be the woman in whose arms I find peace and pleasure."
"Me? An Otte?"
"I know who you are."
"It is a taboo, my lord."
"I know the laws of the land better."
"They will kill me."
"I will protect you."
How much she can believe that was left to her. She was not new to the idea of a secret affair between an Urla and an Otte. What was never heard of or even imaginable for that matter was one between an Otte and an Urla who was connected to the palace, the seat of authority and devotion to the wishes of the gods. Added to that, Omta wasn't just connected to the palace, he was whom everyone knew in the kingdom to be the closest companion of the Heir Apparent Prince. It could be that in this special case, there is a way he could protect her from the wrath of the gods carried out by the hands of the people. Could it be that he has enough power to hide her from any consequential tragedy if they get caught? She has to plunge in to find out.
"Why have you chosen me?"
"You are special. It is your thoughts that I carry in my mind each time I lay my head on my pillow to sleep. Whenever I am visited in my sleep by Assen, the god of romance and love, she comes in your face."
"Can an Urla ever truly love an Otte?"
"I truly love you, that is all I know."
She sighed and for the first time, touched him. She placed her hands on his stony biceps. "Does this have anything to do with Sarie going to the palace?"
He pulled his head from hers and shut his eyes, "Quit asking many questions. I want you, that is all that matters."
"I don't know what I shall do now."
He pulled her closer so that all of her pressed harder against all of him. Her heart beat pounded below his chest and her breath streamed over his neck. Then he took one hand to pat and caress her low cut hair.
She felt her entire being disappearing into him and all of a sudden, this grip that had frightened her became the warmness she wished to adopt as home.
It was her maiden sensual touch from a man, her first real titillating-belly moment of womanhood. His arms were like carved rocks all over her and his chest were as broad and strong as castle doors. He was famed to be a fearless fighter in the king's army yet one of the youngest. The free born maidens of Iluji are delighted by his appearing, yet he chose her, a slave girl to squeeze into his arms. Yet it was a night all the most ravishing Urles had danced nearly naked before him, and he chose to end it with her in his arms. Those facts were not lost to her. Those few moments inside his embrace were her proudest and happiest all her life. She was not ready to say no to him, even if she could.
"I am scared," she whispered.
He pulled slowly from her, "I shall take you to a place where you won't have to be scared."
When he was scheming about this, he had gotten his late mother's hut cleared and prepared to be decently comfortable. He took her there that night and it would henceforth become their secret place of peace and pleasure.
* * * * *
King Chuka stood between two lamp stands, staring staidly at a sheet of paper he held out in front of him when the prince was ushered into his bed chamber. He looked up from the letter and turned to the entrance, "I have barely changed from my festival regalia, has it been drawn to a close?"
"No, father. I instituted a royal presence in my stead so you can go to sleep. You looked worn out and maybe..." He shrugged, "depressed."
"Have a seat," the king gestured at an armed chair of cherry wood.
While the prince sat and watched, the king blew off one of the lamps then went to sit on the edge of his bed. Son kept his eyes on father as father kept adjusting and readjusting on his bed. The silence was growing too embarrassing that Ikan had to look away.
The king cleared his throat.
The prince returned his attention to him.
"The reason I wanted to speak to you is a matter that has to be dealt with as quickly as possible."
"I want to be made to fully understand the reason behind your reluctance about marrying the Wazou princess."
"I told you I do not want to rush things."
"And I made you know I do not take that to be adequate excuse."
"Will it then be adequate excuse if I tell you that I have a disagreement with any insistence on my marriage to a foreign bride?"
"Hmm," the king began to nod and grinned his teeth out, "that puts a chancre right in the middle of your mother's heart."
"What about you? How does that make you feel?"
"You should know already how I feel about you or any of my sons being married to a Wazou princess."
"Yes, I might know that but what I would never know is why you feel that way and why you won't explain it to me."
The king held out his palms at his son, "Listen. Ikan, listen to me," he swallowed, "I watch you every day with a frightened heart. The fear that you might just be deceived to repeat a mistake I made in my youth. If you must grow up to be a better king with a stronger kingdom like I wish for you, you must by all means avoid marrying that princess or anyone from Wazou for that matter. The king adjusted again, this time he seized the opportunity to move closer to the prince. "The core of the reason I and your mother are having this fight is my opposition to that marriage. It is a fight I am prepared to fight with all I have left. I have kept you out of it from the onset just to protect you but it is increasingly looking as if you are in a stronger position to fight the fight or at least you and me together. We must team up to find a way to make sure you do not marry from there no matter what your mother throws at us."
"Father, I don't quite get this. If I must not marry from there, I just simply won't. I find a bride within our kingdom and marry her."
"I thought you knew enough how difficult it is to defy your mother."
"Yes, father. I know so well how even impossible it is for me to do so, but I never knew even you have same difficulty."
The king adjusted again, "There are so much you might not understand, son."
"Of course, there is so much I do not understand. For instance, why or how will my marriage to a Wazou princess weaken my kingdom?"
"You are disappointing me. Will you tell me that you are not clever enough to have noticed that I your father, the king of Iluji kingdom do not have control over my own Council of Chiefs as much as my wife and her family do?"
Ikan scratched his forehead, "Pardon my ignorance, father, but I have not been able to notice any shortage in power on your throne." He knew so well how patronizing that sounded.
Wazou was not just one of the sun lit kingdoms beyond the Mighty Waters; it was the biggest of them. Wazou was also the biggest and most important trade partner of Iluji. All the wool and wool products from Iluji first of all find their way into the hands of Wazou traders who then trade them further down the chain.
Of the three kingdoms that the Mighty Waters linked; Wazou, Iluji and Olam, Wazou was the strongest and so had taken appreciable control over the trade that went on through the water. It had boat soldiers patrolling the length and breadth of the waters to make sure nothing went through the Mighty Waters without the knowledge of the king. Goods were forbidden to be moved between Iluji and Olam without through Wazou and each boat passing through the waters paid a Water Levy to the Wazou treasury. Not just that, the Wazou monarchy decided which trader is permitted to move goods through the Mighty Waters. For this reason, every trader who wished to be prosperous on the waters thought it more than wise to pay homage and maintain a pleasant relationship with the Wazou monarchy.
This was how Wazou exercised control over the other two kingdoms around the Mighty Waters. Since the most prominent men in these kingdoms were into trading across the Mighty Waters, the king of Wazou can use them to influence matters in their home kingdoms. In the case of Iluji, all the members of King Chuka's Council of Chiefs were involved in trading across the Mighty Waters. This was the power of Queen Lorren, whose childhood friend’s elder brother was the sitting king of Wazou. Whatever she wanted decided in the King's Council meeting was what got decided. For those Council Chiefs, saying no to Queen Lorren was at the risk of their boats being blacklisted by the king of Wazou.
"Your mother has more control over my Council of Chiefs than I do, and you do not see that as a shortage in the powers of my throne?"
"She uses her control for your course."
"Except where our courses do not resemble."
Prince Ikan was as a matter of fact not totally oblivious of the diverse power play in the palace. He knew from the day he was announced as Heir Apparent Prince that he would have to find a way of being on top of the power pyramid unlike his father before he is made king or else his throne would be as impotent as his father's. What he had not figured out was what exactly would have to be done to limit the powers of the king of Wazou inside the palace of the king of Iluji and why his father seemed not to be attempting any way out.
"Father, I understand the connection between the queen and the king of Wazou and how they come together to have a hold on your own Council of Chiefs, but with all humility, and I stand to be corrected, it makes no difference that mother is of the Wazou monarchy family or that I marry from the Wazou monarchy. The Wazou kingdom has such powers over the waters to do as they please to the traders across the waters and that remains, irrespective of whom the queen is or where she is from."
"And this is where you all need to be schooled." His tone was forceful. "Please do not marry from that kingdom. That way, they will not have a drama queen whose petty interest they are compelled to protect by whatever insane means they can. That way, they will not know your next move before you make them."
"Is that what? Wait. Is that how you see her? A spy? The Queen of your kingdom? Your wife? My mother? A spy?"
The king shrugged, "Yes. And here is how I see you, a baby who has not learnt to love his parents like an adult."
Ikan exhaled and crossed his arms on his chest.
"For a baby," the king continued teachingly, "he loves mama and dada because mama and dada are perfect. Mama and dada can do no wrong. Mama and dada knows it all. The adult knows mother and father have their flaws just like everyone else and do not know it all because no one does. Yet, he loves them all the same. I know how many times, countless occasions, when I have plotted a scheme with the king of Olam on how to deal with this Wazou problem once and for all. These were plans that had the potential of being successful, but just at the brink of execution it falls apart because the king of Wazou has known of it.
"I give you reality this night. Take it to your pillow with you. Rest your head with it or weight your heart with it, it is all your choice. But the answer to this problem is now yours to discover before you inherit the kingdom. Think about it. I would have loved to hand over the throne to you as soon as the next three seasons of life so I can rest and live long, but if you marry that Wazou princess you would have two witches clawing at you from all sides and draining power from your throne. You cannot handle that, no one can. I will never put you and Iluji in that situation."
"Well, what if I simply refuse to marry the Wazou princess? What can the Wazou king do to me?"
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